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Possibly Twice-Exceptional

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: My son just turned three on August 14th. I have a suspicion that he may be gifted.

His father and I were both diagnosed with ADHD at a young. I had a hard time during grade school. I was always getting in trouble for talking and not sitting in my desk. My grades suffered and I felt that my teachers did not like me. I was even put in a special needs class because I had difficulty with organization. I recently started college and to my surprise have made straight A's. I look forward to attending class and find the material fascinating. I have a passion for learning and have been asked by one of my professors if I was a gifted child. I laughed because I never thought I was smart.

I am worried that my son may have the same troubles if he attends public school. He shows some signs of ADHD and throughout my life I have been under the impression that children with ADHD are typically slow learners and rarely intellectually above average. Is my son likely to be gifted rather than having ADHD?

My son began to roll over both ways when he was four months old, began to crawl by six months, and walked at nine months. He babbled non-stop and began talking around 12 months in age. I could also ask him to grab a diaper, wipes, and his pajamas and he could follow direction. By 18 months, I could point to an object and he would tell me what color it was. Even colors like grey, brown, black, and white. Before he turned two he could sing his ABC's and could identify 10 letters, out of order, when asked. He knew the words to at least 20 songs. When he was 26 months old, he could recite almost all the words in Dr. Seuss's The Lorax along with many other books. I haven't read The Lorax to him in over four months. We went to a Halloween festival and there was a Lorax theme booth and he began correctly reciting the book when he saw it. He recently asked me if we could "go to the ice cream shop where I got sick that one time". This kid does not forget anything! He has a large vocabulary and can have a conversation with adults. He would rather be around adults than children because he can ask so many questions. I get exhausted at how many questions he asks. He wants to know how, why, when, where. He talks non stop and constantly needs the attention of an adult. He understand the concept of time and can identify what day of the week it is today, was yesterday, and will be tomorrow.

His teachers say he is bossy towards his friends and gets irritated if he feels like no one is listening to him. He is very energetic and gets frustrated quickly if he can't do a task to his liking. For example, if he's doing a puzzle and can't get a piece to fit he might throw the puzzle piece or himself down on the floor. If i throw the baseball and he doesn't hit the ball with his bat, he'll throw himself down on the floor and say "I can't do it". I calmly tell him that it's okay not to hit the ball every time and he'll get back up and try again. Would I be an awful parent if I said my son can be manipulative? If I say he can't have something, like candy, he will plead his case and will not back down. When he realizes that I won't give in, he'll think of another way to get what he wants. The candy is on top of the refrigerator and I caught him on top of his step stool with a broom in his had poking at the bucket. He was also saying "abracadabra" because he couldn't quite reach with the broomstick. I could write all day about my son's complexity. I want to be able to gauge how advanced he is, or if he is above average at all. I want to make sure that I get him into the right learning environment so he can excel and love going to school. I don't want teachers telling him he is bad or diagnosing him with ADHD because he may be bored and can't sit still. I am not educated enough on child development to assume he is gifted and would like to get your input.

Thank you for your time, thoughts, and interest in helping a mother like me.

A: It was really interesting reading your letter and I could almost feel your frustrations. From your description, it does point out to distinct characteristics seen in gifted toddlers. It is also be possible that he has ADHD but there is no way of telling based on the descriptions alone apart from the fact that both the parents have been diagnosed with ADHD. It is likely that he may have both characteristics of a gifted child and perhaps as the same time ADHD (need proper tests to confirm this). Or he could just be above average.

I can understand your concerns as you probably had it quite tough. However, I believe things have change dramatically in schools today. Children are given special attention both for their strength and weakness. Communication with schools these days involve parents a lot. First is to get him tested for ADHD – it may just be ruled out. Then speak to the school authorities on how best to help him learn better and work on his strong or weak areas. You may want to look for schools that would suit him better.

However, on the home front there is a lot that can be done and needs to be done. He does appear to be frustrated a lot. These children feel frustrated for many reasons such as being treated unfairly by peers or teachers, feelings of self-doubt or low self-esteem and boredom and lack of challenge in the classroom. He needs to be engaged all the time, which can be a difficult task for parents, let alone teachers.

There are a few things you can do to help your child. The most important thing to do is to model a behaviour and a reaction that your child will emulate. How you react would determine how your child reacts. Do not yell – gifted children often have heightened sensitivities and would react to anger and are quick to pick on your negative emotions. Instead, tell your child that you understand how these things could upset him. Wait until your child has calmed down to discuss the situation. Do not give in as they will always “test the waters” and try different ways to get what they want (as he is already doing). But be ready and willing to listen and perhaps negotiate if necessary. Help your child to recognise that not everyone sees the world the way he does. E.g., if his friends are not listening, explain the reason. The way he perceives a situation may not be the way the others children do but he does not know so it needs to be explained.

At the same time, help him to see that his “ordering” or “bossing” around (could possibly a leadership quality) can make other children upset and not play with him. Help him deal with his frustrations. Children like this need to determine what causes that anger and deal with it before it gets out of hand (e.g., throwing tantrums or destroying things). As soon as these feelings of anger arise, they need to stop, and think. Talking through things is a better. He may be quite young but I believe he will be able to slowly understand if done consistently.

Do read up on this area – the Internet is a great source of information and if would be great for you to look for support from other parents with similar children. Read this link to help you understand gifted children better:

Best wishes in this journey!


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